Foreign Minister focuses on Middle East and Europe
Iran/Yemen/Return of jihadists/Europe/Brexit – Excerpts from the interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to Le Parisien
Paris, 12 May 2019
Challenges to multilateralism
Q. – You say the world is more dangerous. Why?
THE MINISTER – I observe three trends, at global level. First of all, the major principles and pillars of international life are being shattered.
Q. – In other words?
THE MINISTER – Institutions, treaties, promises made and respect for borders are no longer being honoured. Systematic attacks are undermining the Paris climate agreement, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Iran nuclear agreement etc.
Q. – Whose fault is it? Trump’s?
THE MINISTER – Without a doubt, but China and Russia may also play their part in destabilization… Secondly, we’re seeing forms of hyper-violence developing, particularly the terrorism that is continuing. Third danger: some people are advocating that relations between states should no longer be based on cooperation but on confrontation between powers. We risk moving towards a form of international anarchy. It’s very worrying.
Q. – Iran encapsulates those dangers. Is there a risk of war?
THE MINISTER – Iran is reacting badly to the bad American decision to withdraw from the Vienna agreement and pile on sanctions. The agreement is a major achievement of nuclear non-proliferation. We’d like all those involved to abide by it. That applies first of all to Iran. But the Americans also have a responsibility.
Q. – The Americans fear attacks on their interests in the region and are sending military reinforcements… What about France?
THE MINISTER – France’s position is that we must talk to Iran. We reject a warlike escalation. It’s a pity the United States isn’t honouring its commitments; Iran must demonstrate its political maturity and honour its own.
Q. – Is France selling Saudi Arabia weapons that are being used against civilians in Yemen?
THE MINISTER – When you talk about Yemen, you have to take the whole history into account, in its complexity. This nasty war follows a coup d’état carried out by forces supported by the Iranians against a government that emerged from a political transition! Those forces not only overthrew the legitimate government, they also attacked Saudi Arabia. In response there was an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). But there can be no military solution to this terrible war. We call on the Saudis, the Emiratis and also, through Iran, the Houthis – in other words, all the warring parties – to enter into the peace process started by the United Nations, which we support and encourage.
Q. – But what about the arms sales?
THE MINISTER – I’m going to be clear about those sales, which are the result of contracts signed several years ago.
One: we totally comply with our obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), from which the United States has withdrawn.
Two: we comply with the common European position, a package of measures stipulating how to trade in weapons, refusing to help with actions against civilians, for example.
Three: we have an extremely stringent procedure for each international arms sale, with a very rigorous, specialized commission.
Four: we make arms sales public every year.
Q. – Might those weapons have been used against civilians? Tell us!
THE MINISTER – I have no verified information that weapons sold to Saudi Arabia or the UAE have been used deliberately against civilians in this conflict. If that’s the case, it’s totally to be condemned.
Q. – When President Macron talks about guarantees given by the Saudis, it’s very theoretical, isn’t it?
THE MINISTER – Neither the ATT nor our international commitments are theoretical, and nor is the common European position. If by any chance those weapons were to be used against civilians, it would be contrary to the Saudis’ commitments to us. As for Iran, it must stop delivering missiles to the Houthis. I find it curious that people never talk about the Houthis.
Q. – According to the investigation website Disclose, the Saudi cargo ship Bahri Yanbu, which was expected in Le Havre – before doing a U-turn – was due to take delivery of eight Caesar cannons?
THE MINISTER – It’s you talking about it. I don’t have that information.
Q. – So the government won’t confirm that Caesar cannons were due to be loaded onto that ship?
THE MINISTER – No. I wasn’t on the ship. There have been agreements with Saudi Arabia and the UAE for several years, transports of equipment that are continuing in that framework, but we act in accordance with the ATT.
Q. – Isn’t this a kind of state cynicism?
THE MINISTER – No. I’ve heard some journalists say it’s contrary to the ATT; no. That Saudi Arabia and the Emirates are our strategic partners, yes. Particularly because they’re combating terrorism, fortunately. Attacks in France in 2015 and 2016 were carried out by terrorists who, in some cases, had been trained by al-Qaeda or Daesh [so-called ISIL] in Yemen.
Q. – Do reasons of state take precedence?
THE MINISTER – It’s you saying that. I’m saying all our commitments are honoured. (…)
Return of jihadists
Q. – On the returnees, those French jihadists in Syria, doesn’t one get the impression of lots of contradictory statements?
THE MINISTER – My position has always been the same: those French people who have fought in Daesh’s caliphate, men or women, must be tried where they committed their crimes. For Iraq, there’s an Iraqi justice system; in Syria it’s a special case because it’s a country still at war. We’re looking into the possibility of creating a specific jurisdictional mechanism.
Q. – A sort of Nuremberg court for jihadists, as Laurent Wauquiez has proposed?
THE MINISTER – That reference is too historically loaded. However, there are other examples of judicial provisions with an international dimension, of the kind created for Kosovo, or on the African continent. We’re looking into it.
Q. – How many children are involved?
THE MINISTER – As regards orphans or unaccompanied minors, when we identified some – in liaison with local forces – we carried out an initial repatriation in March. We’re ready to carry out more, and they’ll be handed over to the children’s courts in France. But let’s not forget the abject poverty of thousands of refugees and children, who are in those same camps and are victims of Daesh! The urgent thing is that our humanitarian aid reaches them.
Q. – When you hear François Hollande exerting pressure on the issue of returnees…
THE MINISTER – He’s free to speak; I hold responsibility. We’re bringing those young children back on a case-by-case basis, in coordination with the Red Cross. (…)
Q. – The President, the Prime Minister and you [were] in Rennes on Friday: the big guns are out to support Nathalie Loiseau as a [European election] candidate. Is it panic stations?
THE MINISTER – For Europe, yes, it’s panic stations! We risk finding ourselves with a hangover the day after the elections, and waking up will be painful! Remember Brexit; everyone said it wouldn’t happen and it’s happened. Remember Donald Trump; it happened. Europe is in danger, with the risk of a surge in isolationists, who think the problems we’re facing can be resolved only by retreating behind national borders. (…)
Q. – Europe is going to carry less weight in the future, without the British…
THE MINISTER – What a mess… We’re in an absurd situation in which the British Parliament doesn’t know how to implement [the result of] a referendum voted on by the people. And as it’s unable to do so, it’s shifting responsibility onto the European Union. It’s becoming tedious! We respect the British people, who chose Brexit. But the sooner things are clarified, the better for everyone. A lengthy Brexit is a threat which causes disruption and mustn’t further undermine the European agenda. (…)./.